Early each year, chef Michael Rosendaul from The Toledo Club gets to wander off the map a bit and search out the exotic, the unusual, the wild.
There’s no Beef Wellington, roasted pork chops, gorgonzola chicken, or crab cakes headlining the menu on that February night when Rosendaul presents the club’s annual Wild Game Dinner.
“This is an opportunity to serve a lot of product that we don’t normally use,” Rosendaul said about Thursday night’s feast, which attracted a packed house of about 250. “If we were preparing wild game every other week, then this wouldn’t be so interesting, but once a year it is definitely a lot of fun.”
Crafting a menu for the event is both an adventure and a challenge for Rosendaul, who has now done four editions of the popular spread.
“You have some ideas on what you might want to serve, but it is really just a matter of what’s available, and that varies from year to year,” he said. “You want the members to enjoy the meal, and you want to have a few unique items every year, things from off the beaten path.”
Rosendaul has encountered some difficulty trying to procure certain meats for the meal, and those hurdles are usually placed by delays in the customs inspection process. He has tried to get llama or yak in past years, but has been unsuccessful.
“When you start going to other countries, it gets a little more complicated,” he said. “If it’s an imported product, it has to clear customs, and that can be hit or miss as far as knowing for sure you’ll have it on time.”
Rosendaul relies on a network of specialty meat companies in the U.S. for most of the dishes he serves at the wild game dinner. A significant amount of the meat comes from huge ranches that raise exotic game for the market.
Last year, the elk heart tacos Rosendaul served as an appetizer were a huge hit, so elk heart was back on the menu last night in a different presentation. The elk meat was provided by Broken Arrow Ranch, which harvests wild game on a million acres in the heart of the Texas hill country.
“They process the meat in the field in a mobile unit, complete with a USDA inspector,” Rosendaul said. “It’s truly ‘wild’ and a very nice product.”
The menu also included roasted antelope, a whole roasted boar, and camel sliders. The main entrees were venison ribs braised in coffee, maple syrup and blueberries, a cinnamon and honey-glazed quail, and roasted bison strip loin.
The camel meat for the slider appetizers came from a specialty meats company Rosendaul has used before, while the quail breast was ordered through Diamond H Ranch in Texas, where they raise Coturnix or Pharaoh quail for the upscale restaurant industry.
The venison Rosendaul served was another product of the Broken Arrow Ranch, where they also raise blackbuck and nilgai antelope, along with wild boar, and axis, sika, and fallow deer.
The bison meat for the roasted loin entrée came from the Durham Ranch in Wyoming, a 65,000-acre spread that has been operated for three generations by the Flocchini family. In the 1930s, Armando Flocchini, Sr., purchased the Durham Meat Co. mpany in San Francisco where he worked as a butcher and then acquired the ranch about 30 years later.
“That’s part of the fun, seeing what’s out there and working with these companies that deal in the more unusual products,” Rosendaul said.
“It is a little trickier preparing a lot of these, since most wild game is very lean. You can’t cook it past medium-rare.”
Rosendaul said a few members of the club initially balk at sampling some of the exotic offerings, while others prefer to stick with more familiar fare at the annual event, which includes a number of auctions.
“We have some people who have no interest in trying the wild game and that’s fine, so we just give them something else off the regular menu,” he said.
The 2012 wild game dinner included trout, duck, antelope, the South American pacu fish, and goat cheese cake, and the fare won raves from the full house at the club, but Rosendaul admits not everything he’s placed on the menu for the event in the past has been as successful.
“Some things work, and some don’t go quite so well,” Rosendaul said. “We tried python, but it was just too tough. And cayman was the same, just too tough. Reptile is a very difficult thing to get just right.”
At the wild game meal sponsored recently by the Fort Meigs Sertoma Club, the pheasant came from South Dakota and the WR Ranch in Clyde, the moose came from the Lake Nipigon region in western Ontario, and the venison was harvested in Ohio. Other wild game meats were purchased from specialty companies.
Contact Blade outdoors editor Matt Markey at: firstname.lastname@example.org or 419-724-6068.